This post has been featured on Serious Eats.
Hey guys! Remember the ‘Battle of the Buttercreams’ series I posted a year ago? You know, the series in which I explain how to make all six different kinds of buttercream, from American to Swiss? It’s one of the most popular series on the blog! But hey, for those of you who missed the series, let me tell you a little about it… For all I know you might be new here…
Back in 2013 (!) I decided to throw a little buttercream tasting party, where guests (my high school teachers, actually) could taste all the different buttercreams I knew of and vote for their favorite. For the sake of science of course… Not because I like to stuff my face with buttercream or anything… Cough cough… The buttercream party/battle was super fun, but picking a winner turned out to be a tricky business. Apparently, you can argue about tastes!
Anyway, because I’ve learned a lot more about buttercream since 2013, and because I’ve since updated my buttercream recipes, I thought I’d revisit the series. Again, for the sake of science of course… Most certainly not because I looooooove buttercream!
So let’s just get on with it! This is the Battle of the Buttercreams 2.0!
Instead of starting this shiny new series with a recipe, I thought that explaining a little more about the different preparation methods would be helpful.
Two different preparation methods
The six kinds of buttercream I know of can be roughly divided into two categories, according to their preparation method:
- Buttercreams that are made by adding a sweet base (mostly some sort of pudding, but it can also be just sugar) to beaten butter. I like to call this method the ‘beaten-butter method’. And yes, coming up with super creative terms is definitely one of my many talents…
- Buttercreams that are made by adding cubes of softened butter to a sweet base (an egg foam). I call this one the ‘cubed-butter method’. I’m a genius…
American buttercream, flour buttercream, and German buttercream all fall into the first category while French, Italian and Swiss buttercream all fall into the second category.
The beaten-butter method is the easiest of the two, so that’s what I’ll be discussing today.
Beaten butter method
Let me first tell you a little secret: all the buttercreams made using the beaten-butter method can also be made with the cubed-butter method. However, if you use the beaten-butter method, the buttercream not only comes together more willingly, it’s also less likely to separate!
The method itself is super duper easy: just three simple steps!
Oh, by the way, to explain to you how this method works, I’ve included photos in which I’m making flour buttercream. It’s a gorgeously smooth, egg-free buttercream made with a simple pudding base. To make American buttercream, you’d simply replace the pudding with a ton of powdered sugar and a splash of cream, and for the German buttercream you’d replace the pudding with a basic custard made with egg yolks and milk.
I’ll post the different recipes later, so let’s focus on the actual method for now…
First thing you’ll need: butter. Just to point out the obvious… I always use unsalted butter because I like to control how much salt goes into my buttercream, but you can also use salted butter. Whatever you use, make sure the butter is softened at room temperature. You want it to be soft, but not greasy! I usually take the butter out about 30-60 minutes before I want to use it, cut it into little cubes, arrange them on a plate like soldiers standing guard (they warm up faster that way!) and let my buttery soldiers come to temperature…
Once the butter is nice and soft, you beat it until it’s smooth and fluffy. As you beat air into it, it will lighten in color. Obviously, it’s best to use a mixer for this. Fit it with a whisk or paddle attachment, it doesn’t really matter… I don’t have a paddle attachment – because I’m still waiting for a KitchenAid endorsement deal – so I used my trusty old hand-held mixer for this.
And again, make sure the butter is not greasy! When I say ‘room temperature,’ I mean somewhere between 18-20°C or 65-68°F. Don’t even think about trying to warm the butter in the microwave or oven. You don’t want greasy or even melted butter! Otherwise you’ll run into all sorts of issues; it’s pretty hard to whip up melted butter…
I don’t care if you have the patience of a three-year-old. So do we all…
Once the butter is nice and fluffy, you can start adding the base. For a flour buttercream, this means a pudding made with milk, sugar, and a little flour. The base kind of looks like glue, but the resulting buttercream will be delicious, I promise…
By adding the base one spoonful at a time and mixing well after each addition, you give the butter a chance to absorb the added moisture from the pudding. As you may know, fat and water don’t mix very well – just try to mix a few drops of oil into a cup of water. When you’re making buttercream, you’re essentially doing the same thing: you’re trying to make a water-in-fat emulsion. Add all the pudding at once, and the buttercream may separate. Add the pudding slowly, and the buttercream comes together beautifully!
By the way, for a German buttercream you would add spoonfuls of custard to the beaten butter at this point. For an American buttercream you would simply mix in powdered sugar and cream…
Once you’ve added the pudding base (or custard, or powdered sugar and cream), continue to mix on high speed for another few minutes, or until the buttercream is smooth, creamy and fluffy.
Mix in a little vanilla extract or other flavoring and you’re done. You’ve made deliciously smooth buttercream using the beaten-butter method!
Next post in this series: American buttercream. The fluffiest, dreamiest, creamiest American buttercream ever… Like ever. I’m telling you, my new recipe for American buttercream is sooo much better than my 2013 recipe!
- unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
- a base, this can be either prepared pudding, custard or even just powdered sugar
- flavorings, optional
- In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk or paddle, or in a mixing bowl if using a handheld mixer, beat the butter until smooth and fluffy and lightened in color, about 2 minutes.
- Add the base one tablespoon at a time, mixing well after each addition.
- Add flavorings and beat until buttercream looks thick, smooth, and creamy, about 3 minutes.
This (and your past) series are SO interesting. I never knew there was so much variance to the buttercreams. Admittedly, I’ve never been a huge fan of the French or Italian, so I’m very excited to try the Swiss and obviously the German (custard! yes!). Thanks for this!!
The Tough Cookie says
Hi Chrissy, thank you so much 🙂
If you’re not a fan of the Italian buttercream, I’d say stay away from the Swiss; they’re very similar. The German is awesome! It’s one of my favorites.
I read about your buttercream, but you are really vague about the amount of butter, how much butter, how much flour, etc.
The Tough Cookie says
Hi Maureen, you’re right. This post is very vague about ingredients and measurements. In this post, I explain all about the beaten butter method. I will post the recipe for the buttercream on my blog soon, but for now, you can find the recipe here! It’s a post I wrote for Serious Eats. Hope this helps!
I just discovered your wonderful website…(where have I been??)
I have to make 200 cupcakes which I will have to leave in cupcake boxes (unrefrigerated) overnight before serving. My question is, which of the 6 buttercreams do you think would hold up for 10-20 hours before serving? I think is fair to say that the American buttercream will crust and be fine…but I find it way too sweet and want to change it up a bit. Also do any of the others crust? I think the answer is no..but your opinion would be really appreciated.
The Tough Cookie says
Hi Kerry, I hope I’m not too late with this answer. I was on vacation… You’re right about the American buttercream: it’s the only buttercream that forms a crust. I think your best bet would be the flour buttercream. It’s less sweet than the American buttercream and it holds up pretty well. There are no eggs in there, either, which I think is a good thing if you can’t refrigerate.
However, I would still store the cupcakes in a cool room, as cool as possibly.
Check out my updated recipe for flour buttercream. It will be posted here on the blog in a couple of weeks, but I’ve already posted it on Serious Eats!
No you’re not too late…thanks so much for that. I will give the flour BC a try today. I love doing test batches lol
My kitchen is very cool so leaving the cupcakes overnight should be fine..although can a pain when I have to get butter to room temperature ha ha
Thanks again and I hope you had a wonderful holiday (duh…of course you did!!!)
The Tough Cookie says
Hi Kerry, I’m glad you got my reply in time 🙂 Did you like the flour buttercream? Holidays was awesome, by the way! Thanks for asking 😉
I found your website like a month ago when I was searching for buttercream recipes, but just had time to make them this morning.
I tried making the flour buttercream because it’s eggless and icing sugar-less (I never have a good relationship with icing sugar) 2.0 style, but they kinda looked a bit soupy, so I put them in the fridge for about 20-30 minutes and gave them a quick stir with the hand mixer and they looked okay afterwards, but after a few minutes outside they melted? I suspect it’s because of the hot weather (I live in Indonesia, with 30 something degrees C weather everyday), but who knows maybe I did something wrong, any advice on this?
Or if not, which buttercream is more suitable with hot weather? Thanks a lot!
The Tough Cookie says
Hi Sheila! Yeah, hot weather is the worst for buttercream. Because buttercream has such a high fat content, it will definitely melt. This may also be why the buttercream turned out a bit soupy in the first place. Another great buttercream you can try is the Swiss buttercream. It does have eggs in it (egg whites), but you can pasteurize the mixture before adding the butter. Because it’s a meringue-based buttercream, it’s more heat resistant. But just to be on the safe side, make sure to keep the buttercream at a temperature of about 22 degrees C.
Christine Mendoza says
Hi! Looking forward to trying your recipe! if I may ask, does this recipe crust though? I plan to use them on floral cupcakes and Im looking to form crust on my frosting 🙂
The Tough Cookie says
Hi Christine, none of my buttercream recipes form a real crust, because I don’t use that much sugar. I think you need to make an American buttercream made with a lot of powdered sugar for a crust to form. But I’m not really a buttercream crust expert, tbh 😉